November Indie Roundup

I'm a sucker for cheap games. Steam sales do bad things to my wallet. I generally buy at least 10-20 games on sale from Steam or other sources every year. I'm just a sucker for the big 75% OFF! banners and the chance to get a whole game's worth of entertainment for $5 or less. Many are from smaller publishers or indie studios.

The Humble Bundles are similarly dangerous. I have a tough time resisting them, what with their pay-what-you-want pricing and their (generally) critically acclaimed games. I also recently learned about the Indie Royale, which has similar wallet-abusing potential.

In the last few weeks alone, I've blown more money than I should have on these sales and bundles. Well, my loss is your gain; let's sort through this mess...

# Voxatron

This month's wallet destruction comes in the form of the Humble Voxatron Bundle, which I wasn't sold on until they added 2 more games to sweeten the pot. Voxatron was on offer in it's alpha state, and I don't much care for buying unfinished games. I never quite know if I'm going to enjoy them when they're finished, and seeing a game so early in it's development can be both good and bad.

I'd classify it as a dual stick shooter, with some interesting 3-D retro low res graphics. I spent about 2 hours playing it, and I think it has some novel concepts with a sort of 'space invaders' style world destruction elements. It's honestly hard to rate the game on any sort of scale because it's likely to change drastically before it's released. I'm not a big fan of dual stick shooters (and this one I played with the keyboard instead of a controller, which feels wrong) so I'm not sure it was the game for me.

# The Binding of Isaac

Also in the bundle is The Binding of Isaac, which I played the first few levels of, and then when I quit it didn't save (I guess I didn't get far enough?) so I haven't been back to it again. It's got a Legend of Zelda vibe, with some relatively creepy and disturbing but cartoonish imagery. I'm not really sure what to make of it. I may invest some additional time in it at some point, and perhaps I'll figure out how to save my progress.

# Blocks That Matter

Rounding out the bundle, and making it worth my $5, is Blocks That Matter. It's a platformer/puzzle game with some interesting elements. Your robot can drill or bash certain types of blocks in the world, and then those blocks are added to your inventory for later placement to solve puzzles or overcome obstacles. The twist is that you're only allowed to place blocks in groups of 4 - which limits you to the standard Tetris shapes. Figuring out the puzzles is challenging and interesting. The game's got a few issues, notably that some of the levels require you to solve several sub-puzzles in succession, and if you make a mistake there's a good chance you'll have to start the entire level over. That can be a real bummer if the early part of the level is particularly challenging.

# Ben There, Dan That! & Time Gentlemen, Please

This is part of the current Indie Royale bundle, but I picked it up quite a long time ago on a Steam sale for $2 or so. They're both pretty funny and competently written indie adventure games, and if I hadn't already played them I'd consider picking the whole bundle up so I could. I looked at the other games in the bundle and didn't really see anything appealing, so I think I'm going to pass on this one as a whole. If you're on the fence, hopefully a good review for these two will push you over.

# Sword of the Stars

I picked this one up on a Steam sale a couple of weeks ago. I remember seeing this on sale on Impulse once upon a time, and it reminded me of Master of Orion, a game which I played obsessively as a kid. I played a few games of this rendition of the 4X genre, but I just couldn't get into it. Part of it is the complexity of moving around the galaxy map (managing fuel supplies isn't all that fun, honestly) and part of it was the user interface issues. The tech tree is nigh unusable, and there's no notification when a new tech is researched. On top of that, the interface overall is just obtuse and the game's tutorial is insufficient. It shows a lot of promise, and I'd almost think it would do well with a few patches or mods, but it left me with a bad first impression. Given how much I paid and the back catalog I've already accrued, I don't know how long it's going to be before I give it a second chance.

# DLC Quest (XBLA Indie)

I saw an article about this game on Kotaku, and for $1 the price was right. It satirizes the modern trend of releasing a broken or incomplete game and then fixing it/adding in the missing content by throwing up paywalls and requiring you to buy the rest of the game months after it launches. While I found it humorous, in the end it was a bit too short and one-note to leave any lasting impression. I have the same problem with most of the XBLA indie games - the level of polish and content here is so far from what you see in the PC indie scene, and even PC indie games sometimes run afoul of half-implemented features and simplistic gameplay.